Sunday, March 26, 2006


Now Available at SkyMall

Alright, I'll admit those N+1 kids have some gumption. Moxie, even!

Their website has this call for magazine distribution via carry-on bags:

If you're planning to travel to any major extra-US city, including but by no means limited to Lisbon, Nice, Madrid, Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, Geneva, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Brussels, Dublin, Oslo, Reykjavik, Sydney, Vienna, Krakow, Ljubljana, Mexico City, Lima, Bogota, Athens, Frankfurt, Bombay, New Delhi, Cape Town, Freetown, Tokyo, or the Hague, and you'd be willing to convey a few issues of n+1 to a bookstore there, we'd be very grateful.

Best of all would be if you were departing from New York. But elsewhere might work too, especially if you're headed to some exceptionally exotic place.
How about Iowa? -- Does Iowa count as exotic?



I Propose A Summit With Joe Biden

What does plagiarism get you? Shame, expulsion from school, copyright infringement lawsuits.... Well, either that, or a presidential palace and a sweet dacha.

From today's Times of London:

A new study of an economics thesis written by Putin in the mid-1990s has revealed that large chunks of it were copied from an American text. Putin was labelled a plagiarist yesterday after a pair of researchers at the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC think tank, established that the Russian president’s academic credentials were based on a dissertation he had lifted in part verbatim from the Russian translation of a management study written by two professors at the University of Pittsburgh in 1978.

... According to Clifford G Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings, 16 of the 20 pages that open a key section of Putin’s work were copied either word for word or with minute alterations from a management study, Strategic Planning and Policy, written by US professors William King and David Cleland. The study was translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.

What's more, Putin's claim to have a PhD doesn't appear to hold water either.

A Google news search shows that this story has barely any traction yet -- aside from the Times of London, only a couple of Australian papers, an Indian paper, and a couple Russian sites have picked it up. It probably didn't help that the Brookings folks broke this story in The Washington Times, which is a little like giving your big scoop to The Pennysaver.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Jumpin' Apple Jacks Flash

A 1964 Rolling Stones commercial for cereal? Oh yes. From the crack team of archivists at the Onion A.V. Club....

"I Can't Get No Satisfaction, But This Cereal is Certainly Delicious."


Go Bananas!

My favorite weird tidbit of the week came from an eBay listing for a 1930s cookbook, The New Banana, which was published by the United Fruit Company. UFCO, as history nerds know, was the original "banana republic" multinational, tied up in all sorts of postwar CIA shenanigans in Central America.

But even I wasn't ready for this revelation:

From United Fruit Company (UFCO), a company with a rich history comes this recipe booklet featuring bananas. Images picture some nice china and a little depression glass. Recipes include BANANAS WITH BACON, BANANA FRITTERS, BAKED BANANAS, GLAZED BANANAS WITH PINEAPPLE, BANANA AND TOMATO SALAD, BANANA TEA CAKE, ICE CREAM, MOUSSE and more. UFCO was also responsible for a film, Why the Kremlin Hates Bananas, that portrayed UFCO as leading the fight against the evils of communism....

Oh my god.

I... I must have this film!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


How Dry I Am

An interesting review in today's Times of London of When the Rivers Run Dry, a new book by Fred Pearce -- a splendid fellow writer for New Scientist. Pearce, the review notes, goes beyond the usual feel-good rhetoric to get at the real problem:

We have all heard the entreaties — not to run the tap while brushing our teeth, putting a brick in the cistern, using grey water on the garden. The savings are useful but pathetically small. In Britain, our daily personal consumption — drinking, cooking, washing and flushing — is about 150 litres each. In Australia and America, it rises to 350 and 400. But these are mere damp patches on the world water map. The real torrent flows into our food. It takes up to 5,000 litres to grow a single kilo of rice. A kilo of potatoes swallows 500 litres, wheat 1,000, sugar 3,000, coffee 20,000. Just to grow enough beef to make a quarter-pound hamburger takes 11,000 litres. Pearce makes a good joke about the T-shirt slogan “Save water, bath with a friend”. Good message, he says, “but you could fill roughly 25 bathtubs with the 250 grams of cotton needed to make the shirt”.

(An upcoming spoiler alert here, if you haven't read Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land.)

This is more or less the upshot of Royte's fine book as well -- namely, that after dutifully following the path of her garbage to various dumps, and working to reduce her household output, she completely whips the rug out from under you by revealing that the problem of manufacturing waste vastly outweighs household waste. In other words, by the time you're in the garage trying to sort packaging into the right bins, it's already too damn late.

The grandstanding of "Buy Nothing Day" types -- yeah, taking swipes at Starbucks and Nike is, you know, so radical man -- would be a lot more useful if they would point out the quantifiable reasons why not to buy specific products, or why to favor some less wasteful forms over others.

One thought: you could introduce a water usage tax on agricultural products, with varying levels depending on the variety of produce -- or, more simply, a tax on water-intensive varieties of produce but not on the more efficient ones. This which would effectively push the markets towards less wasteful varieties of produce; money from the more wasteful products could help subsidize water efficiency programs. Congress and state governments are too hog-tied by farming lobbies to do anything like this, I imagine -- but cities and counties might not be.



A couple of pleasingly odd bindings turned up on eBay today. The first is "tiger stripe" patterned paper on an 1892 volume of Dante:

The second is a Paul Laurence Dunbar collection with a paper label atop decorated paisley cloth. Paper labels aren't unusual, and even a large decorated paper label isn't entirely unknown; paisley cloth isn't unusual...

But the two together?.... That's unusual.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Bollocks to You

The Independent reviews the paperback release of one of my favorite book titles... Bollocks to Alton Towers.

...this book explores 40-odd idiosyncratic attractions. At the outset, the authors declare the central criterion for their selection: "Most importantly, no ghastly animal mascot with big velour feet will tell you to have a nice day." Yes, it is unlikely that you would encounter such patronising horrors at Barometer World, the Cumberland Pencil Museum or the British Lawnmower Museum. The recommendations are associated with days out that involve "a tartan blanket, a Thermos of tea, three kinds of sandwiches... and a bit of map-reading". Kelvedon Nuclear Bunker is described as "the world's most terrifying bungalow". Dug in the early 19th century, the tunnels of Joseph Williamson in Liverpool are "scrupulously constructed, mad, useless and simply enormous".
Hooray! Hooray for Barometer World!

(Not joking: see my January post about BW's reconstruction of a leech-operated barometer.) (Yes, you are reading that correctly.)


Famous Men & Fair Women

This week's TLS reviews Rutger University Press's publication of a selection from Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell's family albums, Snapshots of Bloomsbury:

They are full of vanished details of the way life was lived – low deckchairs, pipes, hats, round spectacles, strap shoes – and of intriguing bits of byplay: all the adolescent children look as though they wished they were not in the family group; George Duckworth, as Hermione Lee has pointed out, always seems to be standing too close to people; Vivienne Eliot is pointing at her husband in a slightly dotty way. And, once they are provided with a biographical context, reading the photographs seems almost too easy. Some appear particularly revealing: what Humm calls the “primal scene” of Woolf at Talland House at the age of ten, looking out at the camera, almost hidden behind her parents who are concentrating on their books...
Curiously, Woolf herself also wrote about period photography: she penned an introduction to Julia Margaret Cameron's 1926 book Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Hanging Answers All Things

Over at the Guardian Nicholas Lezard hails the new edition of Peter Linebaugh's history The London Hanged:

What Linebaugh has done is to examine closely the records of all those hanged in London during the 18th century and draw some fascinating conclusions: namely, that the death penalty came to be used not so much as a deterrent against witchcraft and treason (accusations of which were more common in earlier times) as a specific response to new property rights..... In 1734, one Jacob Vanderlint wrote a tract called Money Answers All Things - nice title - and broke down a typical labourer's expenses and income. There was a shortfall, and very often this was taken up by crime. And in reply, the ruling class cracked down: execution became a kind of unspoken fiscal policy.

Even a cursory glance through the Old Bailey records online shows what Linebaugh's talking about. Tellingly, what really drove the government to sheer kill-'em-all bloodlust was a crime that seems almost quaint in today's era of phishing and credit theft... namely, counterfeiting.

Oh my, you did not want to get caught doing that back then.

Incidentally, Lezard includes something well-nigh unheard of in newspapers: a request that he get sent more review copies. But not just any review copies (god knows there's enough of those already) -- "this is the kind of work that is normally put out by a university press - more of whose publications, incidentally, I would like to be sent, so I can recommend the odd one."



Banned in Boston

Here's something you don't see every day: a Barnes & Noble closing shop.

Saturday, March 11, 2006



Caleb Crain notes over on his blog that he's taking Harper's to task for publishing an AIDS denialist article this month, a piece which Jon Cohen at Slate aptly pegged as "Pharmanoia":

To be sure, major drug companies and the battalions of academic researchers on their payrolls deserve intense scrutiny. And they have received it.... But as Big Pharma becomes the new Big Tobacco, some critics wildly exaggerate—see Celia Farber's article on AIDS and the corruption of medical science in the March issue of Harper's—turning shades of moral gray into black.

Ultimately, the problem with what Harper's did is not that they published an article by a crackpot. Science depends on skepticism, after all, even if the Celia Farbers of the world usually are wrong. The more fundamental problem is that Harper's did not balance a piece that could directly affect people's health by including a critical response to the profoundly serious charges being made. It's one thing to bloviate on cultural politics and political culture just to hear the sound of your own voice, but health reporting of this kind simply needs to meet a different standard.

Perhaps Harper's style themselves as provocative for doing this piece. Hardly. An infinitely more damning piece of journalism -- one shamefully overlooked by the media -- was Andy Lamey's takedown in The Believer of The New Republic and its publication of Elizabeth McCaughey's 1994 hit-job on the Clinton health care plan. If you want to get enraged over a writer's transgressions, stop wondering how James Frey sleeps at night -- very nicely, I should imagine, with his head cradled in billowy pillows stuffed with $100 bills -- and start wondering how McCaughey does.

I can only hope that Harper's has not also decided that dubious medicine is good for the circulation.... their circulation.


Bear Naked

It's Stephen Colbert's worst nightmare:

From the new online comic Married to The Sea, with thanks to John Mark Boling for the link...


Charles In Charge

A curious item on eBay -- an original paperbound part-work installment by Dickens, Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy, the last section from the book Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings.

Haven't heard of that one? Nor have most people -- because, for one thing, Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings is not entirely by Dickens. It's an unusual portmanteau of a book, originally issued by Dickens' magazine All the Year Round, comprised of stories by six authors, all about the residents of Mrs. Lirriper's house. Dickens wrote the first and last story in the collection; indeed, when the stories get reissued in print, now they typically jettison the other contributors.

Still, the group that Dickens assembled might be an interesting example for someone to follow. Occasionally you see round-robin novels issued by multiple authors, but there's something really quite brilliant in wedding that to a compartmentalized structure: moving from one resident (and room) to another lends itself perfectly to multiple authors.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Send In The Idiots

One of the most pleasant surprises of last year was getting an advance copy from my publisher of Send In the Idiots, with a request from author Kamran Nazeer wondering whether I might blurb it. I did blurb it, and enthusiastically so -- it's an absolutely amazing memoir of how the author tracked down and interviewed his former classmates from a 1970s elementary school autism classroom in New York.

It's coming out next month, and you simply must get this book.

In the mean time, today's Guardian has a profile of Nazeer...


Universe For Rent

Home from Tokyo! My week was spent there doing research -- they have some extraordinary rare books, thanks to the cultural treasure buying sprees of the 1970s and 1980s.

Anyway, when not strolling around the city wondering -- "Why? Why doesn't the U.S. have vending machines that dispense hot bottled tea?" -- or "Why? Why don't we have manga coffeehouses back home?" -- I was haunting bookstores (for me) and toy stores (for the boys.) (Ok, also for me.)

One of my favorite finds:

...Kyoichi Tsuzuki's Universe For Rent, which snoops around in people's Tokyo apartments and explains things like the origins of lamp pull strings. It's sort of like the Village Voice's Shelter column, but in Japanese. (One apartment description sounds about right for me: "Stacks of books have hidden his TV screen and buried his kitchen alive -- not that he has time to cook. Even the oven has become a bookshelf.")

Although Tsuzuki's previous book Tokyo: A Certain Style was translated and issued in the US by Chronicle Books in 1999, there's no sign of a US edition of Universe For Rent yet. And there really should be one -- I mean, the book's already got a bilingual text in Japanese and English! Until a US publisher gets to work on it, you'll either have to order it from Amazon Japan or just content yourself with this fascinating Metropolis profile of Tsuzuki.

Oh, and my other favorite find: this utterly inexplicable children's lunch bag.

Yes... "Cram Cream!" indeed.

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